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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

NTSB Briefing on Staten Island Ferry Accident

Aired October 16, 2003 - 15:32   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I'm told that press conference is about to get underway. Let's dip into it and see what we can learn.
(AUDIO GAP)

ELLEN ENGLEMAN, NTSB CHAIRWOMAN: This is an ongoing investigation. We've been very busy. Everyone is working as a very dedicated team to ensure that we determine, through the facts, what caused the tragedy.

First of all, we want to continue to express our condolences to the families who have both lost members as well as had members who were injured and are currently being hospitalized. Our prayers are with you. We know this was a very traumatic loss. And in fact, the entire mission of the NTSB is based on the fact that we want to ensure we understand what happened so that it doesn't happen to other families in the future.

With me at this moment is Admiral Vivian Cray (ph). She the commander of First District of the Coast Guard based in Boston. Admiral Cray has joined us.

We also have Captain of the Port Craig Bone (ph) who has been with us from the beginning. Captain Bone is here as well. To my left is Bob Ford (ph). Mr. Ford is the investigator in charge on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board.

As you know, the NTSB is most widely known for its investigation of aviation accidents. However, this is the third major marine accident that we have investigated this year. The first occurred in may in Miami with the S.S. Norway (ph). That was followed in June on Father's Day weekend with the Tacky 2 (ph)in the northwest United States. And then, of course, we have the very tragic accident that's here in New York.

Bob Ford, the investigator for the NTSB, did, indeed, hold the first organizational meeting this morning at 8:30. The parties that are named to the investigation, as parties to the investigation under the NTSB procedure are as follows at this time. We have the United States Coast Guard, the New York Fire Department, and the Department of Transportation for the State of New York.

We've arranged our investigation into four operating groups, as was mentioned earlier. We have deck operations, engine operations or engineering operations, survival factors, and human factors. Here are some of the results of the progress to work that we've been working on today. Deck operations is arranging crew interviews. We started the interviews with the deckhands at 1:00 p.m. this afternoon. We're looking at additional factors, including weather as a key element. We're reviewing all weather data that we can find that would affect the accident at large.

Engineering operations have begun interviewing the engineering crew. Those interviews are underway. Survival factors group is interviewing injured passengers and is conducting those interviews at the hospital or the homes where appropriate and possible. Human performance group is gathering tox data and crew background information. They will participate in the crew interviews.

This afternoon, we met with the captain's attorney and are arranging for an interview with him. We will also be begin construction of what we call the 72-hour history. That's the immediate 72 hours prior this accident which would encompass all of the behaviors and all of the factors that involved the particular individuals, their behavior, their conduct, where they were and what was going on at that time.

We have some additional information I'd like to share with you. That we have either met or spoken with in the last 24 hours, Governor Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Congressman Vito Fossella, Borough President James Molinaro, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Tom Collins , federal Department Transportation chief of staff John Flaherty (ph), and of course Admiral Vivian Cray who has joined us today.

I've also met with the New York City Department of Transportation ferry staff from other vessels to describe to the employees of the ferry service our investigation process so they know, understand, and be willing to cooperate with us as we conduct these interviews and determine what's happened in this issue.

Very importantly, we have a family affair specialist here. He's been assisting with this Staten Island president's office with the many calls that they are receiving from family members. We're working to do everything we can to support them in their efforts to also find out what has happened and why.

We've also received vessel information from the Coast Guard which included the Coast Guard vessel deck plans.

Those are the general information that I can give you at this time. We will open it to questions. Please note, we can give you as much information as possible. The majority of our work is under review right now through interviews and data analysis.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about what you know about the captain's condition at the time he was at the helm? Is there anything (OFF-MIKE) and will the police department be able to charge him potentially with leaving the scene of an accident? Do they have the right to do that in your involvement in the investigation?

ENGLEMAN: Our investigation is indeed focused on the probable cause of the accident. We've not yet met with the captain. We're working with his attorney in order to do so. They've been very cooperative. We're making those arrangements at this time.

As far as the information as far as the New York Police Department, I'm not able to discuss any of their activities at this time because we are focused on the safety investigation and not on any other issues.

QUESTION: Is there any truth to the fact that he fell asleep while he was conducting the boat, or any validity to those reports?

ENGLEMAN: Again, because we have not talked to the individuals involved, I don't want to comment on any stories or secondhand information that may be out there.

We want to confirm, by personal interview, the facts of the situation. We're not going to base our investigation on supposition. We're going to continue to work to talk to the individuals in person, as well as conduct all the interviews and the procedures that we have in place.

QUESTION: At this point in time, can you reconstruct what it is that you do have and what you have confirmed?

ENGLEMAN: At this time, we're still at the very beginning of the investigation. Again, because we're conducting the interviews concurrently with the data analysis, it's still premature to offer any kind of basic scenario. It may be a while before we can do so. We want to get it right and that's why we're going to focus on.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: NTSB Chair Ellen Engleman addressing reports there regarding the ferry crash that took place yesterday. Talking about that they need to talk to the captain of the ferry. They've been dealing with his attorney. Continuing a number of interviews with passengers. Also supporting family members of the victims and getting a lot of vessel information from the coast guard.

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